1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Huysum, Jan van
HUYSUM, JAN VAN (1682–1749), Dutch painter, was born at Amsterdam in 1682, and died in his native city on the 8th of February 1749. He was the son of Justus van Huysum, who is said to have been expeditious in decorating doorways, screens and vases. A picture by this artist is preserved in the gallery of Brunswick, representing Orpheus and the Beasts in a wooded landscape, and here we have some explanation of his son’s fondness for landscapes of a conventional and Arcadian kind; for Jan van Huysum, though skilled as a painter of still life, believed himself to possess the genius of a landscape painter. Half his pictures in public galleries are landscapes, views of imaginary lakes and harbours with impossible ruins and classic edifices, and woods of tall and motionless trees—the whole very glossy and smooth, and entirely lifeless. The earliest dated work of this kind is that of 1717, in the Louvre, a grove with maidens culling flowers near a tomb, ruins of a portico, and a distant palace on the shores of a lake bounded by mountains.
It is doubtful whether any artist ever surpassed van Huysum in representing fruit and flowers. It has been said that his fruit has no savour and his flowers have no perfume—in other words, that they are hard and artificial—but this is scarcely true. In substance fruit and flower are delicate and finished imitations of nature in its more subtle varieties of matter. The fruit has an incomparable blush of down, the flowers have a perfect delicacy of tissue. Van Huysum, too, shows supreme art in relieving flowers of various colours against each other, and often against a light and transparent background. He is always bright, sometimes even gaudy. Great taste and much grace and elegance are apparent in the arrangement of bouquets and fruit in vases adorned with bas reliefs or in baskets on marble tables. There is exquisite and faultless finish everywhere. But what van Huysum has not is the breadth, the bold effectiveness, and the depth of thought of de Heem, from whom he descends through Abraham Mignon.
Some of the finest of van Huysum’s fruit and flower pieces have been in English private collections: those of 1723 in the earl of Ellesmere’s gallery, others of 1730–1732 in the collections of Hope and Ashburton. One of the best examples is now in the National Gallery (1736–1737). No public museum has finer and more numerous specimens than the Louvre, which boasts of four landscapes and six panels with still life; then come Berlin and Amsterdam with four fruit and flower pieces; then St Petersburg, Munich, Hanover, Dresden, the Hague, Brunswick, Vienna, Carlsruhe and Copenhagen.